With the advent of digital, social, and mobile media, the consumer buying process has become more complex than simply identifying a need, exploring options, and making a purchase, according to new research conducted by Latitude and About.com.

Even so, buying decisions appear to happening more quickly than before, the study found.

Below, additional findings from the study titled "The Purchase Loop," by Latitude Research and About.com.

Winding Purchase Path

Most consumers move along a complex, nonlinear pathway to their final purchase:

  • 87% of those surveyed say shopping is "more happening" than identifying a need, exploring options, and purchasing.
  • 83% say their path to purchase may involve a greater number of "stops," but it takes less time than it used to overall.
  • 73% say their path to purchase is more complex and less direct than before.

Also, shopping today is a more personal and emotional experience:

  • 79% of consumers say their relationship with brands is much more personal than ever before.
  • 68% say shopping today is "less about the brands/products themselves and more about me (e.g., what I'm feeling or needing)."

Purchase Funnel Tells Only Part of the Story

The concept of the purchase funnel first appeared in the late nineteenth century as a linear customer journey toward the purchase of a product or service.

However, since then, nearly everything about how consumers interact with brands has changed, according to the report.

The traditional purchase funnel typically comprises four phases: Awareness, interest, desire, and action.

Six Behaviors Driving Purchase

Rather, the study identified six behaviors which may be followed along the path to purchase, each representing a critical point for brands to engage with and influence the consumer:

  1. Openness: Consumers are receptive to new or better experiences stemming from pre-existing interest in or curiosity about a category or topic area. Consciously or subconsciously, brands, products or services may be on the consumer's radar.
  2. Realize want or need: Something acts as a catalyst giving the consumer a reason to start looking into things he/she wants or needs to do.
  3. Learning and education: Understanding the broad fundamentals in order to make a purchase the consumer can feel good about.
  4. Seeking ideas and inspiration: Looking for, noticing, and keeping track of examples, thought-starters, and motivators in order to take the next step.
  5. Research and vetting: Comparing options, looking for deals, comparing prices, reading reviews and determining personal associations with the brand.
  6. Post purchase evaluation and expansion: Consumer uses or experiences a purchase and decides how he/she feels, might post reviews and share experience, can send the consumer into additional purchase loops if  renewed openness to brand or inspiration to look into related products, tasks or needs.

Web Prevalent Throughout Buying Process

The study also examined which platforms are most likely to be used at various points along the purchase path.

Tablets are frequently used during the openness and learning phases, whereas TV plays larger role during the openness and ideas and inspiration behaviors.

Even so, websites play a critical role throughout the buying process:

  • 73% of shoppers rely on websites in the research and vetting phase, compared with only 29% who rely on TV during that phase.
  • 73% say websites have led them to need or want an item, compared with 28% who say digital experiences via tablet have done so. 
  • Smartphones (46%) and tablets (35%) are most influential on purchasing decisons during the openness phase.

About the study: The Purchase Loop study was conducted by About.com in conjunction with Latitude Research among a nationally representative sample of 1,600 Americans age 18+. The research was conducted in two phases, using qualitative and quantitative analysis. The About Group is part of Ask.com, which is owned and operated by IAC.

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Ditch the Funnel: 'Purchase Loop' Echoes New Buyer Behavior

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image of Lenna Garibian
Lenna Garibian is a MarketingProfs research writer and a marketing consultant in the tech industry, where she develops engaging content that builds thought leadership and revenue opportunities for clients. She's held marketing and research positions at eRPortal Software, GAP Inc., Stanford University, and the IMF. Reach Lenna via Twitter @LennaAnahid and LinkedIn.